WITHIN the last few years three notable assaults have been made on the integrity of science. Two of these have come from the hostile camp of mediæval metaphysics, another from the very front of the army of science itself. Salisbury, Balfour, and Haeckel agree in this, that "belief" may rest on foundations unknown to "knowledge," and that the conclusions of science may be subject to additions and revisions in accordance with the demands of "belief." To some considerations suggested in part by Balfour's Foundations of Belief and Haeckel's Confession of Faith of a Man of Science I invite your attention to-day.
The growing complexity of civilized life demands with each age broader and more exact knowledge as to the material surroundings and greater precision in our recognition of the invisible forces or tendencies about us. We are in the hands of the Fates, and the greater our activities the more evident become these limiting conditions. The secret of power with man is to know its limitations. To this end we need constantly new accessions of truth as to the universe and better definition of the truths which are old. Such knowledge, tested and placed in order, we call science. Science is the gathered wisdom of the race. Only a part of it can be grasped by any one man. Each must enter into the work of others. Science is the flower of the altruism of the ages, by which nothing that lives "liveth for itself alone," The recognition of facts and laws is the province of science. We only know whit lies about us from our own experience and that of others, this experience of others being translated into terms of our own experience and more or less perfectly blended with it. We can find the meaning of phenomena only from our reasoning based on these experiences. All knowledge we can attain or hope to attain must, in so far as it is knowledge at all, be stated in terms of human experience. The laws of Nature are not the products of science. They are the human glimpses of that which is the "law before all time."
Thus human experience is the foundation of all knowledge. Even innate ideas, if such ideas exist, are derived in some way from knowledge possessed by our ancestors, as innate impulses to action are related to ancestral needs for action.
But is human experience the basis also of belief as it is of knowledge?
- President's address, California Science Association meeting, Oakland, December, 1895.